Review: Funny People
PLOT: George Simmons is used to success. He has made several successful films, and has an uncanny success at picking up women. But he seems to fail at getting the right women and the right kinds of films. But the worst news is yet to come when he finds out he is dying. In an attempt to get back to his roots, he enlists the aid of a young ne’er do well comedian named Ira Wright. This young hopeful begins writing jokes for George and slowly the two become friends. All of that is threatened when an old flame of George’s shows up and suddenly, a love triangle of sorts is born.
Judd Apatow restored much of my faith in comedy. He continues to make or just produce some of the brightest and funniest films in years. By bringing the humor to its emotional core, he has the ability in his vision to be insanely crude, yet truly sincere and honest. And while his latest feature, FUNNY PEOPLE, offers up much of that humor, there was something that just didn’t excite me as much as THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN or KNOCKED UP did. With Adam Sandler in the leading role, as a superstar funnyman who is dying of Leukemia, I found there to be an emotional distance as I watched his struggle with the disease, and with all those around him. Yet all the Apatow touches are here, seemingly so, but it just didn’t ring as true for me.
The story follows a group of comedienne/actors who are at various degrees of success. Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) balances doing stand-up while earning a living working behind the counter at a supermarket deli. His roommate Mark (Jason Schwartzman) has a hit sitcom, but one that all his friends despise. And then there is Leo (Johan Hill) who seems to get bigger laughs then Ira due to his weight… heavy people are funnier apparently. One night when Ira and Leo are doing a couple of minutes on stage, a surprise guest turns up. Mega star George Simmons (Sandler) arrives and ends up doing a very grim piece of comedy. While this shocks the club’s audience, we all know that he has just been told he is dying. So then it is Ira’s turn. He is surprised by Simmons dire set, thus he decides to riff a bit on the famous comedienne. What could’ve been a showdown between funny men, soon turns into something completely unexpected (well, unless you’ve seen the trailer). Ira ends up talking to him in the parking lot. It seems that Mr. Simmons likes Ira and later calls him and asks him to write a few jokes.
As George and Ira get to know each other, it becomes clear that a friendship is on the horizon. And when Ira learns of his boss’ sickness, he feels compelled to help him make the right choices in life. And of course, George is able to give his new assistant opportunities he could only dream of before. This first half of the movie is pretty touching and very funny as the jokes come from the personal lives and the on-stage banter. But something happens about half-way through, and the story shifts from the two friends, to a woman that George once loved, but killed the relationship by cheating on her. Laura (Leslie Mann) has long since moved on with her life. She married a handsome Australian named Clarke (Eric Bana) and the couple have two adorable kids (played by Mann and Apatow’s own children Iris and Maude). While I didn’t feel the film made a very strong transition from the first half to the last, I have to say that not only is Leslie terrific (once again) but so is Iris and Maude… a very talented family indeed.
Really, the main problem I had with the film is that this felt like two films strewn together. The last half is at times very funny, but it took away from Ira and George. While Judd is a pro at making things feel emotionally real, I didn’t feel that here. Especially since the main focus shifts from the sickness to an old flame. I didn’t really buy it. But, with that said, I did laugh and I think that a decent Judd Apatow flick is better than most. While it was an interesting idea watching Adam playing a more exaggerated version of himself, the performance sometimes wore thin. And when his character decides to open up about being sick to his friends and colleagues, the cameo machine went into overdrive and became more distracting than funny. The funniest bit includes Ray Romano and Eminem… talk about a play on ones image. But sometimes, when you throw in too many people that audiences will recognize, it somehow lessens the impact of the serious situation.
Even though I didn’t feel that core connection, I have to say that in many ways, this is Judd’s most well made picture. Funny People is extremely well shot, and while Mr. Apatow always makes some terrific choices involving music, he really did a wonderful job of putting this together. There were some terrific song choices here. And yes, the performances are good, especially Rogen and Mann, so this is certainly not a bad film. It is funny and sometimes sharp, but I really felt the direction it took seemed to lessen the impact. I never really believed in Simmons situation, and the connection he made to those around him didn’t always work. This comedy/drama still offers up the crude humor and a whole lot of F-bombs, and production wise, it may be Apatow’s most mature work. I liked the film… I really did. But generally, when Judd directs, I find a whole lot more love for it than I did for Funny People.